It’s a funny moment, metaphysically speaking. The millions who still believe Satan walks the earth tend to be Trump supporters, while his liberal haters come up with only psychological or political explanations for the peculiar way the president has been dealing with the coronavirus pandemic. But let’s suppose for the hell of it that, rather than seeking to contain the virus and secure Americans’ lives and wealth, the president’s true purpose, perhaps unknown even to his mortal self, is to sow death, disorder, and despair, like Lucifer himself.
So, contrary to the best advice of scientists and public-health officials, Trump discourages mask-wearing; urges people to gather in stadiums and re-populate confined spaces such as restaurants, offices, and schools; hoards P.P.E.; and opposes testing, to the point of closing several federal testing sites. He even withdraws the U.S. from the World Health Organization. (We can dismiss his scripted and grudging concession, on July 21, to mask-wearing as an anxious reaction to his plunging re-election prospects.)
If his purpose was to sicken and kill people and destroy the economy, he couldn’t have come up with a more effective set of policies.
The president’s true purpose, perhaps unknown even to his mortal self, is to sow death, disorder, and despair, like Lucifer himself.
Now let’s imagine that when the Black Death reached southern Germany, in 1348, the elector of the Palatinate, the Drumpf family’s province of origin, was not Rudolf II the Blind, but a person more perspicuous about opportunities for inciting mayhem. In tones more guttural than the faintly wheedling whine of the flatterer he was back in the 80s, our Trump, with a prescient, God-like grasp of the bacterial causes of plague, might have told his superstitious coevals, “Do not think that the flea-infested rats that bite your children are to be scalded or struck or kept at bay. They are to be trapped, fondled, and stroked. For it is they who will vouchsafe deliverance from this damnable pestilence!”
In the 1980s, the plague of AIDS entered our own land, especially its metropoles, such as New York City, where Trump was a conspicuously active man-about-town. When Howard Stern asked him whether he used condoms, Trump was equivocal—H.I.V., it seems, was just another negotiable entity—but when he learned that his prized consigliere, Roy Cohn, had contracted the curse, he took away almost all of the legal cases Cohn was handling for him. And when, after years of doing favors for his friend and client and giving lucrative advice, Cohn asked Trump to provide a room at one of his hotels for Cohn’s dying boyfriend, Trump did so. And then he sent him the bill.
With this more recent history and his handling of the coronavirus in our minds, let’s imagine Trump as president during the AIDS epidemic. We can hear him rallying the masses with words like these:
“Do you know anyone who’s an addict or in rehab? They’re beautiful people. Try making friends with a few. Hand over a needle—you only need one—shoot up with them. Don’t sterilize the needle before you do. You’ll feel great and so will they. Then go home and have sex. Without protection.
“Are there any homosexuals in your neighborhood? Maybe where you work? They’re great people. Show them a little interest. Some of them are quite attractive. Be an entrepreneur: build a bathhouse.
“Then you can donate blood to local hospitals. So many sick people need transfusions. Be generous: I bet it’s tax-deductible.”
Allowing for the differences in the modes of transmission, wouldn’t such urgings amount to the kind of thing he’s telling us now?
He might even have gone on to say, “Don’t worry. One day, it’s like a miracle, AIDS will just disappear.”
Does the promise of miracles also nestle in the Devil’s bag of tricks?
Ben Gerson is a journalist and editor based in New York City